More space for Brixton businesses – with a nod to anarchists and artists

Alan Slingsby visits Brixton’s latest office space offering – designed by Squire and Partners architects to complement their existing presence in the centre of town

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Inside The Department Store Studios
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Exterior of The Department Store Studios on Stockwell Avenue

While Brixton is in a state of constant change, that change does not have to be brutal, nor alien to local traditions and settings.

Squire and Partners’ Department Store headquarters, at the junction of Ferndale and Brixton Roads, and their Canova Hall and Cattivo food and drink outlets, all use existing buildings.

Restored with some of the glamour and opulence that their original builders intended, they also give more than passing recognition to the squatters, anarchists and artists who occupied them when Brixton was less fashionable.

However, Squires’ latest local building, separated from the original Department Store by a shared courtyard, is new from top to bottom.

Housing The Department Store Studios and a restaurant, it is designed successfully both to fit with its surroundings and to echo or complement nearby construction techniques.

The restaurant also continues the theme of displaying some of the art discovered when the main Department Store building was recreated.

Unseen from the outside are the massive wooden pillars that support the building’s five storeys, which drop to three to be nearer the height of terraced housing on the Bellefields Road frontage.

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The as yet unoccupied top floor shows the size and use of wooden beams and the non-rectangular rooms of The Studios
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Wooden beams and pillars and exposed brickwork in a workspace

Made from prefabricated cross laminated timber (CLT), the pillars replace steel or concrete and are part of an overall drive for sustainability in the new building.

CLT is made from renewable wood, so absorbs carbon dioxide and does not require the burning of fossil fuels during production.

The structural frame also provides in-built soundproofing, fire safety properties and airtightness, Squires say.

The exterior of the building is brick, but with a remarkable texture created by half bricks – each broken by hand – protruding from the façade.

Exposed brick and untreated wood made up much of the interior.

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One of The Studios’ terraces, with the walls’ unusual broken-brick finish

Some 120 square metres of green roof and planted terraces should enhance local biodiversity, and 28 photovoltaic panels create renewable energy on site.

And, while air-conditioning is installed, all of the building’s windows open, making it less likely to be needed on a regular basis.

Local fabric artist Isabel Fletcher has designed hangings for rooms in The Studios that both act as mood-influencers and improve acoustics.

She is one of several creatives to contribute to the overall feel of the building.

The atmosphere is further enhanced by great views of Brixton and beyond, as well as close-up ones of Russell the oak tree in the courtyard and West Side Story style fire escapes.

The Studios are designed for growing local businesses with flexible workspaces – from individual desks to private studios – and serviced social and meeting areas.

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One of Isabel Fletcher’s wall-hangings in a meeting room

The fourth floor is designed for a single occupant with up to 70 staff.

One of the industries that Squires are looking at to use that space is medical research, an expanding feature of the Brixton economy. Not surprising with three top teaching hospitals – King’s College, St Thomas’ and Guy’s – only a bike ride away.

Each year, The Studios plan to offer a residency scheme for young entrepreneurs and a programme of events to share skills, inspire creativity and expand local networks.

The Studios have a 16-seat screening room which, when it is completed, will be available to local organisations. One of the first will be Louisa Payne of the Brixton Wine Club – a runner-up in the competition for this year’s residency scheme.

For local entrepreneurs at the start of their career, the restaurant and bar will, like Canova Hall, offer day passes for, people who want to sit and use the wifi and coffee. 

More information on The Department Store Studios website

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What went before – open air art on Stockwell Avenue in 2017
open air art